Mounting a Virtual Hard Disk in Windows 7

In the last article, we went over how to easily create system image backups inside Windows 7. With image backups, you don’t have to worry or decide what gets backed up because a full system image will include everything. The downside to this method of course, is that it takes up a lot of storage space. Anyways, with system images, you typically use them whenever your system completely crashes. This way, your entire computer gets restored up to the point the image backup was last created. However, what if you don’t want to restore your entire computer but instead want to just grab some files you accidentally deleted the other day that you’re sure is in the image backup? Because the image file is in VHD format, you can’t just double click on the image to open it and then browse for the files to recover (at least not by default). Instead, you have to actually mount the VHD first before being able to browse its contents. Don’t worry, it’s a really simple procedure!

To make things a bit easier on yourself, just imagine a VHD file as a ‘virtual’ representation of your physical computer. If you have some understanding of virtualization technology, than I’m sure you’ll have no problem picking this up. If not, then I got you covered as well. I’ve written some basic articles detailing virtualization which you can glance over here and here.

To get back on topic, the VHD file stored in your external hard disk represents your computer as a whole. Windows 7 Home Premium edition and higher allows you to easily create system image backups in case one day your computer gets so funky, you have no choice but to reinstall. But as mentioned earlier, there might be times when you don’t need or want to completely restore your computer but rather be able to grab some files stored in the VHD instead. For this to be possible, we will need to mount the image so that Windows will see it as just another ‘physical’ hard drive connected to your computer system. In reality, the hard disk is virtualized. Luckily, Windows 7 allows you this capability of mounting VHD files. It’s so simple, a caveman can do it, literally.

How to Mount VHD Image Files in Windows 7

1. To mount a VHD image file, we simply head into Disk Management. This built-in Windows utility is what we use to manage our hard disks on a system. You can shrink hard disk space, extend a partition, format and delete partitions, change drive letters etc. One really cool feature of course, is the ability to mount the images we created earlier with Windows Backup.

To get into Disk Management, right click on your Computer icon in the Start Menu and choose Manage from the context menu. Once Computer Management is opened, under the Storage section, click on Disk Management. Windows will then scan your system for all available disk drives.

Disk Management

As you can see, my laptop is fairly generic. I have one physical disk installed. The FreeAgent drive is my external USB hard disk which holds the image files I will mount in the next step.

2. Next, simply click on the Action menu on the toolbar and select Attach VHD. In the resulting dialog box, simply browse for the VHD file. For users who want to attach a VHD created from the system image created earlier, the VHD file is in a folder called ‘WindowsImageBackup’ at the root of the drive. Within in, there will be a subfolder with your computer name as the label. The actual VHD file(s) is in another sub-folder labeled Backup XXXX with XXX being the date you last did a system image backup along with what seems to be some random number. If you want the mounted drive to be read-only (meaning you can’t add any information to the image), then go ahead and check the Read-only option box and hit Next.

Attach VHD
VHD Files
Disk Location

3. If you this your first time mounting a VHD image file, Windows will automatically begin installing a driver on your system. Once that is done, you VHD image backup file is now properly mounted! Back in Disk Management, you can clearly see a new drive has been attached to my system.

VHD Install Driver
Attached VHD Disk

How do you access your content you ask? Very simple. Simply head over to Computer and you will then see the newly mounted disk. Just browse through it like how you would any other drive. All of your files at the time you created the last image backup should be there. For example, if you need a file that was located on the Desktop, simply browse to UsersyourusernameDesktop. Highlight the file of interest and simply just drag it over to your actual Desktop or location of choice. That’s it!

4. When you are done working with the VHD, you can then detach it. Return back to Disk Management. In the bottom portion, find the VHD drive and right click on the left side of the drive. In the resulting menu, select Detach VHD. Job done!

Detach VHD

If you want an even easier way to attach and detach VHD’s, check out the free utility, VHD Attach. Once installed, this little utility will then include 2 options on your right-click menu, labeled Attach and Detach. So, simply browse to the locations of your VHDs, right click and select the appropriate option to mount it. Select the Detach option when you are finish. Very handy indeed if you will be working with VHDs a lot. You can download the free utility at this website.

VHD Context Menu

Pretty easy wasn’t it?

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